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Tai chi martial artist: Off the clock with Céline Lévesque

Céline Lévesque practicing the tai chi sword

Céline Lévesque, Head, Oral Microbiology
Associate Professor, Faculty of Dentistry
Canada Research Chair in Oral Microbial Genetics


Céline has been at the University of Toronto (U of T) for 11 years.


What do you do off the clock?

I practice and teach the Chinese martial art of tai chi.

How did you first become interested in Tai Chi?

Ever since I can remember, I have always been interested in martial arts. A few years ago, I started to learn tai chi from Chan Sifu who taught me the ancient long-form routine from the Great Grandmaster Yang Cheng Fu as taught in China.

I discovered a true passion for the art of tai chi. I am a fifth generation descendant of the Yang family, lineage Yang Cheng Fu.

Where do you practice and teach?

I practice the ancient long-form routine every day at home. I also practice the tai chi  sword every week.

I am currently studying pushing hands, a two-person training routine to develop sparring skills. Unlike other aggressive martial arts, pushing hands is a specially devised art developed to sense the other’s weakness and to turn the opponent’s strength against him or her.

I am also teaching tai chi  for the Toronto District School Board. Every Thursday night, I teach a group of 20 students from all age groups the traditional yang style tai chi . It is such a pleasure to transmit the richness of tai chi and to see in my students the health benefits. Sometimes during the weekend, I meet with my students in High Park to do the tai chi routine or practice the tai chi  sword.

Who inspires or influences your work?

I am incredibly fortunate to be a formal student of Chan Sifu. I have learned from my tai chi  master the most basic levels to the most advanced rules and applications of the art. Under Chan Sifu’s personal guidance, I am pursuing my training to attain the true meaning and function of tai chi and become a sifu to carry on the traditions and methods of the Yang family.

What have you learned from tai chi  that you apply to your everyday life?

Tai chi  is described as an internal martial art. It is widely practiced for its health benefits such as flexibility of the joints, circulation, and relaxation of the mind and body. It improves physical and mental health and prolongs life if one can master [its] true meaning.

For me, [it]  is a way of life. It is a mind-body-spirit training. It is all about the concept of yin-yang, referring to two opposing yet complementary aspects of life (actions, ideas, feelings, thoughts, etc.).

Tai chi  generates movement and stillness and is the mother of yin-yang. By doing tai chi , I am exploring my personal yin-yang aspects to balance my yin and yang energies. It gives me inner strength and helps me focus on priorities and overcome challenges in my everyday life.

Any suggestions for someone interested in taking up tai chi ?

Tai chi  can only be taught orally. To learn,  one must find a good tai chi  master and study under his or her guidance. Of course there are books and videos on tai chi  but the transmission of the art requires physical demonstration and understanding of each movement.

The second important point is to practice, practice, practice. I always tell my students that even if you do not remember exactly the movements I taught during the class, just practice anyway. Good form comes with patience and practice. In no time, you will develop muscle memory and you will start seeing [its] health benefits.

Nominated by Susan Mazza, executive assistant to Dr. Daniel Haas, Dean Faculty of Dentistry